Emily Harris (centre) started the in-person Monarch Moms meet-up groups in July, when it was much easier to physical distance in outdoor spaces. Harris started the group as a source of connection for women navigating the ups and downs of having a baby during a pandemic. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Emily Harris (centre) started the in-person Monarch Moms meet-up groups in July, when it was much easier to physical distance in outdoor spaces. Harris started the group as a source of connection for women navigating the ups and downs of having a baby during a pandemic. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Victoria new mom group navigates challenges of motherhood in a pandemic

Monarch Moms meet once a week for physically-distanced connection

Rain came down sideways on a Tuesday morning as a group of new moms bounced babies on their laps inside a Fairfield dance studio.

This is one of the few indoor meetings the Monarch Mums group has had since the COVID-19 pandemic started, and only six women came, each physically distanced on colourful baby blankets in a large circle.

Over the babble of curious youngsters and rattling toys, the women shared their highs and lows of the week. From sleeping problems, prams, toys and puppies to hair loss, in-laws, postpartum depression and career jealousy – one woman shared her struggle to finish a manuscript and her resentment of her husband’s full-time work schedule – the group was vulnerable and open with one another.

One mom shared the ‘high’ that she finally told her husband of her postpartum depression. Another piped in how she was scared if people knew, they would take her baby away.

While 10-month-old Iain bounced on her hip, organizer Emily Harris, explained how the group has helped the new moms navigate an exceptionally difficult transition.

“Just being able to find that community of people in that same situation I think is vital to maintaining your own mental health,” she said.

“Everybody is so desperate for that connection. I can speak for myself that I just felt so lonely, like March [and] April were horrible. Those were the longest months of my life.”

READ ALSO: Pregnant in a pandemic: expectant mothers change birth plans due to COVID-19

(From left to right) Melissa Mouat and 12-week-old daughter Rosie and Roxanna Mohtadi and five-month-old daughter Melody discuss the joys and hardships of new motherhood during a pandemic at the weekly Monarch Moms meet-up. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

The weekly meetings were born of a Facebook group.

“A lot of the talk going around in this online group was, ‘I feel so lonely, I really want to meet with people.’ I just sort of threw it out there if anyone would be interested,” Harris said.

The first meeting was at Hollywood Park and drew 18 moms and babies from across Greater Victoria. It was a physically-distanced success, Harris said. Since then the group has met at various parks every Monday morning.

Many members already had other children, but all of the moms had a baby in 2020 – except Harris, whose son was born on Christmas Day, 2019.

“The transition for a first-time baby is like jumping off a cliff,” Harris said. “Doing that during a pandemic is something else.”

Harris lamented the maternity leave she had envisioned for herself and her newborn – one that included art and music classes, family visits and time with friends.

“We are all there in some way. We may not necessarily be struggling with the same things but we all struggle. The beauty of being a part of this group is that some people are further along in their mental health journey and can be a source of support,” she said. “Honestly, sometimes you just need somebody to listen.”

Harris said winter weather might create hurdles for the group.

“One of the things that’s been a stressor for us is, where do we stand with our babies and COVID? And a lot of moms have a lot of anxiety about moving indoors. Which makes total sense,” she said. “Our next challenge is to find a place that’s covered and dry with that outdoor component.”

READ ALSO: Sooke mom faces ‘pandemic police’ for bringing kids to the grocery store

Stephanie Anderson and her eight-month-old daughter Eva enjoy physical-distanced connections with other new moms at the weekly Monarch Moms meet-up group. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)


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